Do you paint over a grayscale layer or not?


  • SVS OG

    I have been watching the SVS video Digital Illustration Process and really enjoying it but the artist, Shaun Keenan, always finishes with a grayscale painting. He doesn't add color so I don't know if he is intending to only show how to do monochrome illustrations or if he assumes that once you have those grayscale layers, the color is just laid on top. I know that some digital artists do that using multiply layers but when I tried that I found it to be very difficult. I especially found it hard to get the colors the way I wanted them because I had to paint on multiply layers all of the time but I don't know if the problems I had were because I am doing it wrong.

    I guess my question is two fold -- do you do grayscale paintings and then place color over them, and if you do, what is your method? And what would be the advantage of doing this over just double checking your values as you paint by putting a desaturation layer over everything?



  • @demotlj I think the intent with his method is to get his values correct but I don’t really think it necessarily means the painting is better. There are a lot if illustrators that just work in color. If you haven’t already, check out Ahmed Aldoori on YouTube. He’s really good and breaks things down very well, especially when it comes to color. Hope this helps!


  • SVS Team SVS OG

    @demotlj i do it both ways. The big difference for me is that i can change colors quickly just by painting over the grayscale.



  • Personally I don't paint over a greyscale layer. Colors usually end up pretty dead and dull when I do that, although that's prolly my flawed process' fault.

    I've seen tons of artist adding color to a greyscale artwork and then correcting the colors and pushing them further on other layers after merging the color layer with their greyscale (Clint Cearley does that a lot!). That could help you to avoid getting confused with different layers set on different blending modes.

    Marco Bucci has a cool video on the greyscale to color subject, maybe checking it out would be helpful! CLICK!

    As for the adventages of doing greyscale first...
    Well, you get to focus on one thing at the time when you separate value from color, don't ya?
    It can be good for folks that are starting out with values and have hard time keeping them in mind while coloring.



  • I just use a desaturation layer, I find it easier as I've never really figured out how you do the whole multiply layer thing!



  • I sometimes paint over a monotone layer, but instead of multiply I make a new color layer and paint like it's thick oil on a dry underpainting. So I make a "normal" layer, find a color at the value I want but choosing the hue and saturation, then lay it on top. I also keep a black "Hue" layer that I turn on and off to check my values work. My digital has improved significantly from doing it the same process in traditional and digital. The advantage is forcing my to plan my whole drawing and value structure then I can just have fun with color.

    The multiply method seems to apply best if you are used to working with glazed paint. So if you did thin watercolor or acrylic layers previously, multiply applies. It lets you push your colors and shadows slowly one layer at a time. My old computer objects to lots of layers though so I just lay it down like thick paint.


  • Pro

    @demotlj I personally don't like painting over a grayscale, I find that pretty boring to look at and my colors often end up muddy. Instead, I do a value and color test before starting, and at the end I create an adjustment layer that desaturates everything so I can check if everything is okay. I often end up making small adjustments to tweak the contrast thanks to this check. But yeah I find my colors are richer if I don't use this method.



  • @demotlj I do the whole greyscale thing. It was a struggle for a while but still better (for me at least) than just painting in colour.

    My big problem was that I was trying to get a FINISHED greyscale painting before adding colour. At which point I'd need to repaint a fair amount of it. I'd also try and make the image look FINISHED with the colourize layer over the greyscale which is not really possible for me. You've always gotta do some painting.

    Now I use the greyscale to get everything into the ballpark. I try to look at it as sorting all the puzzle pieces instead of just assembling from scratch. So I'll use greyscale to value group and figure out very basic lighting and then do a colourize (colour in photoshop, I think) layer over top. After everything looks like it's 75-80% (close, but not finished) I flatten most of it and paint on one layer.



  • I struggled with this exact process while I was working in my subjective studies in CED. Colours were definitely stunted over grey scale. But since understanding grey scale is still so important -I do it first. I have to work on getting the exact grey scale I want and then find the corresponding colours per that grey value - and I find it helps a lot. I hope that with practise I can better pick the right coloured values without being so meticulous with the eye drop tool.

    I absolutely understand your frustration and struggle, your not alone.

    🙂 ❤


  • SVS OG

    This is all very reassuring. My primary problem in using multiply layers is that the relationship between the hue I choose and the the resulting hue on the layer aren't a direct equality. (Which means I also can't use the color dropper on a previously painted multiply layer without first turning off the multiply layer to see what the true color I chose was.) I have enough difficulty choosing color without dealing with an indirect relationship between the color palette and what is coming out in the painting. Doing a value study before painting has been really helpful but I think I'll go back to just using it as a reference instead of an underlaying layer.


  • SVS Team SVS OG

    @demotlj I usually do not use multiple to color. I will use color layer, soft light layer, and sometimes overlay. Once in awhile I will use a multiple to get a deeper color. Once I am happy with all my layers and colors. I will merge them all together then do a multiple on top with a cool blue/grey to push my lighting and then an overlay with a warm yellow/orange to pop the highlights.


  • SVS OG

    @Chip-Valecek I never thought about using a different kind of layer. I don't know if Procreate has as many blend options but I think I'll play around and see.


  • SVS Team SVS OG

    @demotlj I'm not sure about procreate, I use Photoshop and at first I started to use multiple and it just wasn't working out. I gave up for awhile, and then came across a demo somewhere and saw how someone else did it. I forget who it was, but i started to mess around more with it. I actually like doing it more then just color.



  • @demotlj In general Procreate has the same layer commands as photoshop. They may be called something slightly different, but they're all there 🙂



  • @IgorWoznicki I would really recommend checking out the Marco Bucci video on this. I think he explains it very well and I agree with his conclusion on not adding color to greyscale painting. To each their own though.



  • I struggled with the same issue for a couple months now. I ended up painting the greyscale to fairly detailed level, then use a combination of "Color", "Multiply" layer blending mode and normal layers on top for paint-over to do the color study. It gets super messy, and a lot of times I do not know what I am doing until I see the color on the screen together. Then I picked the color study I like the most, and just continue to adjust the color and paint on it until it is done. I use normal layers for paint-overs a lot.

    I think if you are able to paint directly in color and put a desaturation layer on top to check layer, that is great. The reason to do gray scale painting is to focus on solving one problem at time.

    I am considering just use 2 or 3 value range of value for sketching, and do color studies on my rough sketch, and move to painting the final piece from there. I don't know if the process will work for me. I will explor it on the next piece I paint.



  • @Buddy-Skelton, thank you for mentioning Marco Bucci's class. I started watching his Digital painting 2 class. He talked about his process. It is very fun and interesting. Maybe it will be interesting for @demotlj too.


  • SVS OG

    @xin-li I watched his Digital Painting 1 quite a while ago and then for some reason never watched the second class. I’ll have to go look at it.


  • SVS OG

    This is a really interesting topic and something I've wondered about lots too. I really like the idea of starting with a grey-scale layer, but like a lot of people have said, my coloured piece ends up looking horribly muddy and lifeless in the end...so I'd love to crack the technique!

    I'm going to check out some of the tutorials people have suggested here. Thanks for starting this thread!!



  • I think maybe the process you choose have a lot to do with the style you end up with.It will feel very wrong to start with gray scale and place the color over if your style is very loose, and brush stroke are a big part of the feel of the painting (like March Bucci). But if your painting is very tight and detailed, brush stokes plays less important role, maybe using multiply/color layer blending mode is a way to go to start off with the color.


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